Andrea Benson is a Portland-based artist working with encaustics and mixed media. She has a number of themes she likes to visit including: where the land meets the water in a series she calls “Obscure Coast”; the forested landscape of the Northwest in her series “Homeland”; and the figure in landscape in her series “Figure and Ground”. We are currently showing her series “Implied Containers”. She explains that her "Implied Containers" series developed through experimenting with the medium. The subject matter draws on how “Many of us have an almost primal desire to collect and arrange objects. I spend a lot of time - maybe too much - moving shapes around to find groupings that create a kind of poetry of adjacencies. In the first works of this series I thought of the pieces as shelves. As it continued, I began to think of them as implied containers - as boundaries holding a moment of sensation, memory, or landscape. They became stand-ins for the body and the ebb and flow of impressions and thoughts; images of something elusive momentarily constrained.” Andrea moved to the Pacific Northwest when she was in her twenties after growing up in a small town on the edge of a forest in Pennsylvania. Like any good Northwesterners, she loves the trees, mountains, rivers and the ocean. Even the grey drizzle that punctuates half of the year has created a rhythm that supports her creativity. She says the combination of these natural elements in her life, “makes it easy to work in the studio or get lost in a book. I've always loved to walk, and feel that moving, looking and listening has a sizable influence on making.” Andrea’s art background is varied, working in drawing, printmaking, photography, ceramics, paper making and sewing. She also worked as a cook for several years, and later as an interior designer and space planner doing corporate interiors. She tells of how “Putting my hands onto material and working with it has always been compelling, as has trying to combine multiple media in some resonant way.” In 1999 she took a class on using encaustic wax-based paint, which set the path for future studio practice. It was a material that could bring together the many elements she had enjoyed when using other art media. Encaustics has been her main medium since 2003. She has been working with it intensively, using a wide variety of techniques, most often combining it with paper, drawing and collage. She appreciates, “There's an appealing range of qualities to explore with encaustic: the ability to layer, obscure and excavate, to engrave and inlay line, and variations in transparency, opacity, saturation and subtlety of color. There is the transitory liquidity of heated wax paint; I get to melt things.” This material has given voice to her visual language, which is based strongly in compositional harmony. “One of my favorite parts of making images is the act of composition: the language of visual energetics, of relationship and proportion, in which each element affects the others. It’s a conversation taking place on a surface, where line, shape, color and pattern convey weight, direction and energy. Sometimes it's a puzzle to work out and sometimes a revelation, where a small thing can change everything. I often start with a simple drawing or layout, acting as a compositional scaffold to hang things from, and knowing that there will be a continual back and forth between structure and improvisation.” In Andrea’s work we are offered provocative beauty. About her current art practice she comments, “In strange times, when the news presents a comic dystopia and so much is in peril, I've felt more clearly that I don't want to add ugly to the world, but to make things that bend toward beauty, that offer a gesture of appreciation and respect for this place. Sometimes, I think of these pieces as a prayer, or a poem, being sent up by one who is amused, sad, perplexed and amazed - all at the same time.”
The Medium & Techniques Encaustic is a painting medium using a wax and resin-based paint. It is valued for its rich luminous surface and its versatility for use with other artists' mediums. Encaustic paint is typically applied to a rigid absorbent surface, often in multiple layers. The wax-based paint must be melted to become fused to the rigid base, and each subsequent layer of paint must be fused to the previous layer. This process of melting and fusing is what the word encaustic refers to - it comes from Greek and means “to burn in”. Andrea Benson uses filtered beeswax to make most of her own paints. The encaustic paint is kept liquid in containers sitting on a hot plate set to about 200 degrees. For color, she adds dry pigments to the wax. Different types of pigments allow for varying levels of transparency and opacity. She begins by coating a Baltic birch plywood panel with several layers of encaustic. The paint is applied with brushes that are kept warm on the hot plate. Each new layer of wax is carefully melted with a propane torch, electric iron or heat gun to fuse it to the layer below. The wax hardens immediately and can be carved, shaped or incised and engraved with tools. Multiple layers are built up and can be selectively scraped away to reveal what's below. Areas can be remelted and reworked. Collage elements can be added and embedded.
Andrea draws and makes marks on paper, usually Japanese Kozo (mulberry paper) - The paper needs to be an absorbent natural fiber paper. She employs ink, markers, watercolor paint or pencils in this mark making. She then saturates the paper with clear unpigmented encaustic, basically making it into wax paper. Paper that may have looked white before, now becomes translucent.
She tears or cuts the waxed paper into shapes and seals it to the encaustic coated wood panel using more encaustic paint. The waxed paper bits and pieces are layered over each other and as they build up, the lower layers show through, depending on the transparency of the paper. She may also engrave into the work in places and then inlayed a different color of encaustic into the engraved lines. On the "Implied Container" series of works this engraving is typically found in the outlines of the containers.
On an encaustic painting, for several months after the wax was last melted, it subtly and slowly cures and hardens. During this period the surface may become slightly cloudy. This is called bloom, and it's more visible on darker colors. It's not a defect. The surface may be gently polished with a soft, clean cloth to dispel the bloom and restore a lustrous shine without harming the artwork. Because wax is impervious to moisture and air, it doesn't easily deteriorate and doesn't need to be protected with a varnish or glass. It will not yellow or darken with age. Although, like most fine art, colors are still susceptible to fading from UV radiation and it should be kept out of direct sunlight. Temperatures need to get much hotter than your home to damage the wax - typically above 170 degrees. References: https://www.andreabenson.com/about-encaustic